The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When the going gets tough...

...the tough get going. That's a good quote to describe Shirley, the mother of a 19-year-old boy named Gabriel with Licensephaly. For years, Shirley tried to integrate Gabriel into normal schools without success. She finally found a school for him with others that share his difficulties. To be near him, she started renting a home nearby.

Gabriel requires assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and she is normally the one to provide it. This is true for most mothers of children with disabilities. It can be very stressful and take a toll on a woman's mental and physical health.

Recognizing this, Shirley started an organization Associacao de Mae Especiais (AME). In the beginning, it was a group of mothers from the nearby school for students with disabilities who would gather cans, crush them, and sell them to earn a little money to help support their families. But the neighbors complained about the noise so they had to find an alternative. Instead, neighbors started donating items (clothing, jewelry, etc) and they started a Bazaar. The association now helps 36 mothers with finding jobs, therapy, and event donated food once a week.

Gabriel's school is just one block down the street from AME, which is a huge convenience for the mothers. The school is public, funded by the government, and free to the students. They serve students age 6-40 with significant disabilities.

Shirley and Gabriel rent an apartment just a few doors down from the school. It is nice, but small and has very tight hallways and spaces, making it difficult for wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Today we introduced to Shirley all of the projects that we created for her and Gabriel so that she can use them this afternoon and provide any feedback or needs for adjustment tomorrow when we return.

The bedrails were designed to help keep Gabriel in his bed. Currently, Shirley pulls a trundle bed out to catch him if he falls, but it is unstable and uncomfortable. Two different groups made two differing products that she will try. She already knows of another student that would benefit from the second product!

A PVC shower chair was also created. The design is very sturdy, and Shirley was quite impressed! She loves the size, accessibility to all parts of Gabriel's body, and securing device. She was ready to try it out while we were there! We look forward to hearing how the trial went.

Gabriel loved his finger protection device! He had such a huge smile that I almost cried. He seemed to be reaching out like he was Spider-Man. Shirley was also very excited about the drool handkerchiefs and apron. She told a story how just yesterday he was all dressed up nicely at a dinner but had food all over himself. She is excited to be able to use it and help him maintain his dignity.

Updates on the other projects to come tomorrow!

Today's reflection: What a great day! Something I pointed out at midterm time was that I LOVED that most group's included Gabriel's mother, Shirley, as a stakeholder. All too often the stress on the mother of a child with disabilities (or any child) is ignored. What are your thoughts on what they do at AME?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Now let's get down to business

Today we are getting down to business-it's project week! We spent the morning organizing our luggage. In case you don't know, we each are allowed 2 suitcases up to 50 lbs. Each student can use one for personal items, but the other is used to take projects or donations.

In our manufacturing class for the last 2 years, students have designed and built various toys that are intended to be therapeutic--not only fun but also require that the child work on their motor skills while they play. This includes wobble boards with mazes, foosball tables, tic tac toe boards, chess boards, and others.

We were supposed to visit APAE (the association for fathers and friends of the exceptional), but there was a miscommunication and we will have to return on Thursday. Instead, we spent the time assembling the projects that were designed by SAU Engineering Students, Sweet Briar Engineering students, and SAU Social Entrepreneurship students. Over the next few days we will visit the recipients of these projects and make final adjustments as needed. We will also be keeping our eye out for future project ideas.

Today's reflection: We are now working on getting our donations and projects "up and running." A lot of things that end up not working or breaking are unpredictable when you are working on projects for people on another continent. Can you think of any ways to better prepare for these hurdles from the start? Simply telling students about them is not a solution.

Island weekend

Yep, you read it right! We spent the weekend at Ilha Grande, which can be compared to their Hawaii. It's a beautiful island with great beaches and hiking.

Great end to a busy week

Day 4--we visited a final company, GERDAU, that recycles steel. They either use a drawing process to create wire and nails, or rolling processes to make structural components. It was cool to see a company dedicated to recycling materials and also conserving water-90-95% of the water they use in their processes is collected, cleaned and reused (with the majority of the loss being from steam/evaporation).

We then concluded the day with a Brazilian BBQ. Several different types of meats were cooked on the grill and passed around for all to enjoy, and we brought Pringles and Pop Tarts to share. There was swimming, soccer, volleyball, basketball, and music. It was a great time!

Today's reflection: Did you notice Gerdau uses a lot of water in their process? They have a water reclamation system where they clean it and reuse it, with only a 5-10% loss. Water is one of the most valuable resources here in Brazil, and clean water even more. What are you doing to respect or support that? How does this compare to the US? What could be done to improve the water system here?

Industry of the Green Coast

Day 3--it seems the primary industry of the region we are in (the Green Coast, near Rio) is quite different than that of our previous Brazil trips (in the Northeast it is mostly Cacau/agriculture and tourism).

Today we visited VALE, a company that mines ore in a state north of Rio and transports it to areas around the world at the port in or near Itaguai. We took a boat to an island where this all happens, and got to see some very large machinery used to move iron ore from train cars arriving from the north, to the storage areas, and then on to large ships.

Today's reflection: Many of the companies we have visited (and will visit) state their dedication to the environment and humanity. How does this compare to companies in the US? Do you think they are truly dedicated to this cause? Why or why not? Check out the Wikipedia page for Vale for supporting evidence.

Getting out to see Rio

Day 2--we set out to learn more about Rio's schools.

We started the day seeing a pretty awesome lab at SENAI, a technical school focused in the clothing industry. They have a lab that shows how one can set up a factory with everything computerized and interconnected, starting with a virtual mirror to have the customer design their own clothes, a waterless process for making the clothes, and a camera that reads your emotions when you try them on to put feedback into the system.

After SENAI we took a detour to the Meracana stadium purely for entertainment purposes. Several of our students are big soccer fans, so we thought it would be fun! It was pretty cool to see:)

We then visited CEFET-Mercana to learn more about the university and their ENACTUS programs. Their campus has a jungle in the middle. We think maybe a transformation of the Hayes courtyard is in order!

We concluded the day by checking out, first hand, one of the ENACTUS (Social Entrepreneurship) projects. They work with a home for the blind and have taught them to manufacture brooms so they can sell them and make a living. It's a very cool idea! I hope to be able to work with them in the future on some ideas for more projects.

Today's reflection: SENAI, the school where we saw the high tech connected system for manufacturing pants, is nestled in one of the worst favelas of Rio. Reflect on that dichotomy. What does it mean for the poor to have a school like that nearby? What does it mean for the students? Why do you think it's that way?